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Mars Transportation Space Science Technology

SpaceX Unveils Heavy-Lift Rocket Designs 248

Posted by timothy
from the now-comes-the-wedding-night dept.
FleaPlus writes "At the recent Joint Propulsion Conference, SpaceX's rocket development facility director Tom Markusic unveiled conceptual plans for how its current Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 commercial rockets can be evolved into heavy-lift rockets, ranging from a Falcon X capable of lifting 38,000kg to orbit, up to a 140,000kg Falcon XX (more than either the Saturn V or the 75,000kg shuttle-derived rocket Congress currently plans on having NASA spend >$13B building). SpaceX presentations also discuss a new Merlin 2 heavy-lift engine, solar-electric cargo tugs, adapting their current engines for descent/ascent vehicles fueled by Mars-derived methane, and a desire for the government to take the lead on in-space nuclear thermal propulsion while commercial focuses on launchers. In a recent interview, SpaceX CEO/CTO Elon Musk expressed his goal of lowering the price of Mars transportation enough to enable early colonization in 20 years, and his own plans for retiring to Mars."
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SpaceX Unveils Heavy-Lift Rocket Designs

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  • Vision (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday (582209) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @06:03PM (#33155410)
    "I'm planning to retire to Mars"

    That, my friends, is vision.

    Not, "one day mankind must blah blah blah..." but: 'I'm planning to retire to Mars.'

  • Re:Vision (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mangu (126918) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @06:13PM (#33155478)

    "I'm planning to retire to Mars"
      That, my friends, is vision.

    I'd say it's marketese.

    But well, anyhow, it's awesome marketese.

  • Re:Shiny! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jpmorgan (517966) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @06:28PM (#33155584) Homepage

    Well, what I like about SpaceX is they've turned "rocket science" into "rocket engineering." As an interested outsider, they seem to have a strong focus on modular design, which aids in keeping costs down. It's basic bottom-up design, which usually leads to better and cheaper solutions than the top-down design work that government mandated engineering tends to be.

    Design should always be a compromise between what you want and what is practical. The space-shuttle is what you get when you'd rather spend billions than be flexible in your requirements. And the worst part about that is you end up with such a bleeding-edge integrated solution, that you don't get to take anything away from it. You're always starting again from scratch.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @06:41PM (#33155672)

    Americans are taxed on citizenship, not residency.

    That reminds me of an old Monty Python quip: "To boost the British economy I'd tax all foreigners living abroad."

  • Re:Vision (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tgd (2822) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @06:44PM (#33155694)

    That marketese has gotten him a company successfully launching rockets into orbit.

    My vision has got me sitting on my couch in my underpants.

    Just to put that in perspective.

  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:33PM (#33157236) Homepage Journal
    First off, I have to say that SpaceX announcing they have the intention and potential designs for a Saturn-class lifter is some of the most exciting news I've heard about space in my lifetime (yes, I'm a post 70's child).

    However, there is one key thing that SpaceX needs as they develop as a company. First, and foremost, SpaceX needs to get its LEO business to become lucrative and profitable. If that company can develop enough profit to start breaking away from NASA prize money and other political tie-ins, then they will be set. I have not doubt in my mind that the engineers at SpaceX can deliver what they advocate in this article if they are given the money and opportunity to do so. However, I also have little doubt that folks at the various NASA labs could do the same thing. The key advantage that SpaceX has, over NASA, however, is that it has the potential to be independent of Congress fucking about in it's vehicle designs. That, above all else, is what makes SpaceX special.

    If SpaceX can break it's ties from the government through contracts and cheap launches, then we will be to Mars in my lifetime. However, if they get roped into the political games that so many defense contractors and other space companies do, then America is screwed for a mission to Mars. Right now, the single greatest threat to space explorations is the United States Congress. It really is that simple.
  • Re:Hahaha! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:35PM (#33157946) Homepage

    What's being discussed is not a "colony" in any normal sense of the word. It's a base. "Colony" implies a large degree of self sufficiency, which requires the most massive engineering engineering effort in the history of humankind to even get started. What Musk is doing is working on lower-cost spacecraft. Spacecraft that, IMHO, are still 1-2 orders of magnitude too expensive to make true colonization realistic. If all you do is go there and use some regolith for shielding and make some methane fuel using equipment shipped from Earth, perhaps growing some plants in greenhouses shipped from Earth, etc -- you're not colonizing. Namely, because not only could such a "colony" not independently expand itself, but if the shipments from Earth suddenly stopped, the next time something significant broke, the entire colony would die. You're not going to, say, jury-rig a new compressor out of duct tape and rocks. You couldn't even make duct tape itself without an entire petrochemical industry. A sustainable colony requires a mind-boggling amount of sustainable industry and the use of structures and devices engineered to be produceable by said industrial infrastructure.

    But anyway, kudos to Musk for at least doing *something* useful rather than building palm tree islands or city-sized yachts.

  • Re:Vision (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:41PM (#33157970) Homepage

    The difference between Musk and Rutan is that Rutan will get you to space, while Musk will get you to orbit.

    The two sound similar, but they're nothing close to each other in terms of technical difficulty.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 06, 2010 @05:41AM (#33159168)

    What a load of crap. I guess you don't believe that Man really walked on the moon then? Because, you know, those astronauts had to fly through the Van Allen belts to get there. And, oh yeah, fly through them again to get home. And guess what, they all survived. The radiation does from the belts isn't terribly high, not compared to the dose of radiation received from cosmic rays (much higher energy and much harder to sheld against) and the radiation received from solar events on the long cruise to Mars.

  • by tehcyder (746570) on Friday August 06, 2010 @08:26AM (#33159924) Journal

    Yes, and as I understand it, the problem is that costs are a few zeroes greater than revenue. Something like SpaceX's new rocket can lop a zero off the costs, but we're going to need more than that before space mining makes economic sense. If they can lop off a second zero, say via high reusability and a launch rate of thousands of rockets a year, that might do.

    Um, while costs are even *slightly* higher than revenue there isn't really any point in space mining, apart from general awesomeness.

  • You're still crazy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sean.peters (568334) on Friday August 06, 2010 @02:52PM (#33166176) Homepage

    And so is the rest of the "let's colonize Mars" crowd - because there's simply no reason to colonize Mars. For one thing, even if the wildest dreams of SpaceX become true (and here's a hint: they probably won't, at least not completely), getting a colony to Mars is going to be unbelievably expensive. You need to not only haul the people, but all their life support equipment, capital goods (they're going to have to earn a living, right?), at least some minimal housing, energy generation, startup food, plants, greenhouses for the plants, fertilizer for the plants (unlike you're going to find fixed nitrogen on Mars, for one thing), minimal personal possessions, etc, etc, etc.

    And once you've spent the trillions of dollars that would require, then what? How are you ever going to recoup your investment? Mars is mostly made of the same stuff as earth - iron, silicon, oxygen, carbon, etc. What are you going to find or make there that's worth the enormous expense to do it? The answer, pretty much, is that there isn't anything.

    I doubt there's any realistic hope of retirement communities there either. The Gobi desert, for example, is a lot easier and cheaper to get to, has the advantage of a breathable atmosphere, and looks about the same as Mars (less pink), but I haven't seen a flood of Happy Acres Assisted Living developments going in there.

    Look, I get that space colonization is all cool and romantic and stuff. The problem is that it's not remotely practical, and most likely won't ever be.

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